Neartown meeting – August 2010

I attended the August Neartown Association meeting tonight at the Cherryhurst Park Community Center.  Minutes from the meeting will be posted at the Neartown website, but I took a few notes from the discussions:

METRO University Line update

Speaker David Couch, Managing Director for Metro Solutions, provided an update on the University Line on Richmond Avenue. Metro recently received a Record of Decision from the FTA.  The alignment of the rail is also set.  Metro will now focus on planning the rail line, including reviewing traffic signals/flow and lane/sidewalk widths.   Metro expects planning to continue through the remainder of the year, with detailed design beginning early next year.  Metro assured the group community input and agreement would be sought before detailed design began.  I specifically asked about left turns out of Richwood Place and David answered that our community input would be requested in this planning phase.  It looks like planning and design will continue in parallel with property acquisition and further requests for funding over the next several years.  That means construction may not begin for two or three more years.  

HEB update

Scott McClelland, HEB Houston Division President, has assured the Neartown Association that HEB wants community involvement in the selection of the store design.  He will use as a means of communicaiton, including creating a voting mechanism for final design preference.  He now believes the cost delta for the park is around $700,000 , and he hopes he can work with the community to raise the money for the project.  Some of you may have heard the delta was closer to 2 or 3 million, however, creating a two story structure with the store on the second level would provide retail opportunities on the first level that would help close the gap.  HEB has also confirmed the City of Houston would maintain a park if one is built.  There is at least one store plan created (by a HEB architect) and several more are expected soon. 

New High-Rise Construction

A new 13-story building is planned for the corner of Montrose and 59.  I searched swamplot and found two links about the project here and here.

Concerns over neighborhood bars

The home at 2310 Converse, just North of Fairview, has recently become a new bar, the Muffin Man.  The hours for the bar are listed from 11pm until 5am.  This bar has opened in a residence in the middle of a neighborhood street and is raising serious concerns in the Montrose community.  The group is working to understand how to prevent this from ocurring.

Next month’s meeting will include discussions from representatives of the new Whole Foods market planned on Waugh and an update on the 13-story building mentioned above.

There are several other activities this week you may be interesting in participating in:


The next Positive Interaction Program (PIP) meeting for with the Houston Police Department (neighborhood crime for the Central District #1) is scheduled for tomorrow at 7pm at 1602 State Street.

Heights Wal-Mart

Mayor Parker will host a public meeting regarding the Koehler Street Development proposals (simply put, the Washington Corridor WalMart) at the George R. Brown Convention Center, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday.  Click here for the Houston Chronicle article detailing the meeting.

Metro slows rail projects as cash ebbs


Link to Chronicle article regarding funding issues effecting Metro and light rail. Article is also printed below.

Stalled federal grant adds to budget concerns


Aug. 20, 2010, 12:17AM

Facing a $49 million budget shortfall this fiscal year, the Metropolitan Transit Authority has begun to slow construction on two light rail lines and may embrace more drastic measures in the coming months as uncertainty grows over a $800 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

Senior Metro officials emphasized that they did not anticipate any cuts to services due to the financial pressures and expressed confidence the FTA grant needed to pay for an estimated 30 miles of additional rail in Houston is forthcoming. But they nevertheless have begun to weigh the impact of continued delays on construction plans that anticipated completion in 2013.

“There’s going to be some tough choices that we’ll be making here, no doubt,” Metro Chairman Gilbert Garcia said.

So far, officials said, the work that has been put off has been minimal on the North line, which is expected to run from north Houston to the Texas Medical Center and Reliant Park. Metro has delayed road reconstruction work on Fulton Street and has put off awarding a contract for the expansion and construction of a rail facility on Fannin at the south end of the line near Reliant Park and the 610 Loop.

Those delays could just mark the beginning, Metro’s Acting President and CEO George Greanias said.

Holding the line

Metro’s budget had anticipated that the transit agency this fiscal year would receive some of the $800 million earmarked to expand Houston’s light rail in President Barack Obama’s 2010 budget. The grant money has been delayed amid an FTA investigation into Metro’s compliance with federal procurement rules. Metro also has struggled during the economic slowdown due to lower ridership and sales tax revenues.

“We’re holding the line on operating costs, and we’re going to be watching everything very diligently,” he said. “We have to be prudent in the management of our finances. That’s why all summer long we’ve been looking at scenarios, and that’s what we’re going to be talking about with the board in the coming weeks.”

Garcia and Greanias said the board will hold several meetings in the coming months to discuss contingency plans for next year’s budget. They said those plans will depend on the status of the FTA’s investigation and whether the grant is approved in the coming months.

This year, officials said, although Metro took in more than $260 million less than anticipated in sales tax revenues, grant funding, ridership fees and debt issuance, the agency expects to have a $49 million shortfall at the end of its fiscal year Sept. 30 due to lower spending. That shortfall will be closed using cash surpluses.

Wednesday’s board meeting also showcased the findings of a private law firm that faulted the manner in which Metro conducted board meetings in the past and made more than a dozen recommendations about how the agency can improve its compliance with state laws regarding transparency.

Neil Thomas, a partner at Fulbright and Jaworski, said the firm had been unable to assess how decisions were made at Metro board committee meetings due to insufficient records.

“That lack of transparency bothered us,” he said.

Improved minutes, files

Thomas praised Metro’s efforts to improve how it retains documents after an open records lawsuit and complaints from a terminated employee embroiled the agency in scandal earlier this year. Still, he said cultural transformation would be more important than implementing a new policy.

“Those cultural changes will ultimately make things work,” he said.

Board members pledged to keep better minutes and comply with the recommendations.

“We just want to make sure we’re following the rules,” Garcia said.

Daphne Scarbrough, a longtime Metro critic who owns a business on Richmond where the University Line would run, said the agency is being forced to comply with state law and deserves no credit for the changes it has implemented to bring it in line with what is expected of all government entities.

She praised Thomas’ report and said she and other Metro critics have experienced similar problems with previous committee meetings.

“They have the appearance of a public meeting, but in reality decisions are made behind closed doors,” she said. “It’s because of their policies that Houston does not have light rail.”


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Street Sign Toppers

In previous general meetings, the majority of residents have expressed interest in buying “sign toppers” for our street signs. The sign toppers are metal decorations that would be mounted to the top of all Richwood Place street signs to help define the neighborhood.

Cliff Helmcamp found a terrific quote from a sign shop in Louisiana that will produce all 15 of our signs for a fraction of the cost of previous bid:

15 18×14″ custom cut 3mil aluminum composite double sided signs, printed vinyl with laminate protection, full color – $480
15 18×14″ custom cut & painted .080 aluminum with RTA vinyl signs – limited to color and detail – $645

Remaining issues:

  • We will need to get permission from the city to install the sign toppers.
  • We need a logo/design that we own or that is within the fair uses of the license.
  • We need to agree if the design, sign, and installation costs will come out of the general budget or if signs will be sponsored by a resident.
  • We need to find and engage a contractor to do the installation.

If you are interested in assisting with any of the above items, please contact Cliff or reply to thie post. We can further discuss our plans at the October 5th National Night Out on the 1800 block of Norfolk.